PEI

P.E.I. groups call for new sex-ed curriculum in open letter

Three wellness and women's groups in P.E.I. have sent an open letter to the provincial government calling for a new, up-to-date sexual-education curriculum across the Island.

Some parts date back more than 2 decades, they say

Jillian Kilfoil, left, and Jane Ledwell say parts of P.E.I.'s sex-ed curriculum date back as far as 1988. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Three wellness and women's groups in P.E.I. have sent an open letter to the provincial government calling for a new, up-to-date sexual-education curriculum across the Island.

The letter, signed by PEERS Alliance, Women's Network PEI and the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women, says parts of the current curriculum haven't been changed since 1995 or even earlier.

The effort was spurred by the Ontario government's recent decision to roll back its sex-ed curriculum to the 1998 version, Women's Network executive director Jillian Kilfoil told Mainstreet P.E.I. guest-host Kerry Campbell.

"Many people were outraged to see what was happening in Ontario without realizing we have a very out-of-date curriculum here in P.E.I."

Family Life curriculum 

The letter cites the curriculum of Family Life Education — an elective course offered to Grade 10 students — to show how long it has been since the course material was updated. 

The course's curriculum predates the legalization of same-sex marriage, human rights protection for gender identity and gender expression, in-province abortion access and changing trends with sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs), the letter says — not to mention the proliferation of the internet.

"Parts of the curriculum are exactly the same as they were when I took Family Life Education in 1988," Ledwell said.

Kinley Dowling's song Microphone and its video are the basis for some new sex-ed resources that will launch this fall. (Christopher Ball/Jenna MacMillan)

In an email to CBC, the Department of Education said the Family Life Education elective "is not our sex-ed curriculum, it is one Grade 10 elective course that is offered in a small number of schools and was taken by 43 students last year."

A teacher could 'implement very outdated views'

Many teachers are going beyond the curriculum with content about consent and healthy relationships but that isn't enough, Kilfoil added.

"The curriculum is the floor and the floor is extremely out-of-date. We need to come up with a better baseline for how we're educating our children," she said.

"In theory, if somebody wanted to practise and implement very outdated views, they would be able to, given the parameters that currently exist."

Parents protest against Ontario's changes to the sex-ed curriculum outside Queen's Park on July 19, 2018. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

In the email to CBC, the Department of Education said resources from Grade 1 through high school addressing same-sex marriage, online safety, consent, the many ways to build a family, identity, healthy relationships and LGBTQ issues are either new or recently updated.

STBBIs and innovations in conception are taught in Grade 8, while in-province access to abortion is part of the Grade 9 curriculum, the email said.

"We support teachers by working with stakeholder groups such as Public Health, Human Rights, Inter-ministerial Women's Secretariat, PEERS Alliance, Advisory Council on the Status of Women, P.E.I. Rape & Sexual Assault Centre in the development of new resources and professional development," the email said.

'Really important themes'

Sexual education resources are being developed based on P.E.I. singer-songwriter Kinley Dowling's 2016 song and video Microphone, about a sexual assault that happened when she was in high school.

"They look at consent and what bystanders can do and gender identity and expression, and all kinds of really important themes," Ledwell said.

"Those resources are terrific, but they're being presented in a context where the curriculum says the goal is to have abstinence from all sexual activity and behaviour."

'I think kids are confused'

The three groups want a curriculum where those resources are used with the involvement of specialists, educators and the public, Ledwell said.

"They need to be connected to outcomes for sexual-health education that keep our children's needs in mind, that keep students' contemporary needs in mind."

Kids are getting conflicting messages in the classroom and from their peer group and the internet, Kilfoil said.

"I think kids are confused."

'Non-biased, neutral' delivery

It's not an easy subject for parents or even educators, Kilfoil said, and adults are bound to carry their own "baggage and bias" into the discussion. 

She called for a group of experts to be convened.

"We need to find a way to deliver this content in a non-biased, neutral way that supports the health and safety of our children."

Status of Women executive director Jane Ledwell told Mainstreet there has been no response from government since the letter was sent July 24.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Kerry Campbell

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